Key Management Takes Flight in Tallahassee

In 2017, after attending a national security conference, Thomas Vergo returned to his Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) office with a profound idea. Placing a significant item on both his boss's and director's desks, he sought to revolutionize their approach to access control.

Little did they anticipate the pivotal role this seemingly innocuous item would play in their everyday operations for years to come.

Sprawling across more than 2,400 acres, the Tallahassee International Airport, in northwest Florida serves nearly 1 million passengers annually. Beyond its impressive terminal lies a sprawling campus, housing an array of structures-from an air traffic control tower and cargo hangars to maintenance facilities and a fire station.

Managing access across this diverse collection of buildings calls for an all-encompassing and streamlined approach to key management. Enter the key fob that Vergo strategically placed on the desktops of his executives — an embodiment of comprehensive and efficient access control solutions.

Emerging as a cornerstone of Vergo's vision for enhanced operational efficiency, the fob served as a crucial component of his consideration for a cutting-edge key management system. Upon arriving at TLH in 2014, he discovered the workflow for key management involved using an archaic paper-based, log-book method to tracking physical key usage. Not only was this a cumbersome task, but hunting down lost keys regularly befell managers. Additionally, manually checking out restricted keys proved to be a time-consuming affair, particularly when managers were busy with more pressing matters across the airport.

Less than a year after it was first introduced by Vergo to his executives, TLH purchased its first system in 2018, paving the way for the realization of reduced employee downtime and lower production costs.

Since purchasing their key management system, TLH has experienced a clear difference in operational efficiency. One of the first things noticed was the reduction of master keys as they realized fewer masters and grand masters were needed when they were managed and stored in central location.

Additionally, if a crew member needed multiple keys throughout a shift, he or she could check out a duty ring with multiple keys attached to a single fob. This method consolidated where keys were stored and reduced the liability of stolen, duplicated or misplaced masters.

With a keen eye for optimization, Vergo has harnessed the power of auditing and monitoring through the strategic implementation of a cutting-edge key management system. By acquiring a comprehensive solution, he now enjoys a bird's-eye view of who has checked out which key and precisely when.

Leveraging this technology, Vergo effectively imposes access restrictions, curfews and alerts, enabling him to swiftly address any key-related anomalies. As a result, not only does he relish the peace of mind that comes from an organized key tracking system, but he also possesses invaluable resources to ensure compliance with stringent industry regulations. Indeed, in the event of any misconduct or mishap, Vergo possesses a crystal-clear audit trail, illuminating the key's journey with utmost clarity.

In a testament to the system's remarkable scalability, Vergo has unearthed yet another advantage of his key management solution. By initially acquiring two strategically positioned key cabinets across airport's expansive campus, he ensured optimal efficiency and heightened security. Recognizing the high demand at these pivotal touchpoints, Vergo's vision on improved security now paves the way for further expansion.

With an eye towards streamlining access to outdoor equipment and tools, he is considering the addition of another cabinet in the external maintenance building. This future-forward approach not only bolsters operational fluidity but also vividly illustrates the system's adaptability, empowering the airport to meet evolving demands with absolute ease.

The airport is gearing up for seven major projects and a new international processing facility, which will expand the Passenger Terminal Building another 40,000 sq feet. As construction ramps up, the airport's key management system is continuing to prove its value. With numerous contractors needing access to secure areas, Vergo and his team efficiently monitor key usage thanks to their streamlined system.

For TLH, gone are the days of creating new keys for each crew, as the comprehensive solution is now in place. Despite the wear and tear on the keys from frequent use, the airport's operations remain unaffected, a demonstration to the system's resilience.

“Since purchasing the cabinets, we haven’t had to replace a single fob,” Vergo said. “Some keys have been run over by equipment or dropped off a jet bridge, but we’ve never had a failure of the key fobs.”

Tallahassee’s airport serves as a reminder of the multifaceted layers of access control within an airport's operational environment. From the terminal to the farthest reaches of its ever-growing infrastructure, operations managers bear the weighty responsibility of maintaining a comprehensive view of all circulating keys and the areas they access, swiftly resolving any instances of loss or misplacement.

With their implementation of a robust key management system, Vergo and his team have not only risen to this challenge of reducing costs and improving processes but have also bolstered the airport's security

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2024 issue of Security Today.

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